Category Archives: New Zealand – The Land of the Long White Cloud
New Zealand life, Aotearoa
As I was growing up, World War II was still in relatively recent memory for my New Zealand family. My great uncles had fought in New Guinea, my grandfather was posted in North Africa and Italy and, as a child, my father had nightmares about Japanese soldiers breaking into his room at night. One of my great aunts had lost her first great love to the war and three neighbours were unmarried sisters whose chances at marital bliss had been shattered by the lack of single men returning from the war so had therefore set up home together. There were the incredulous tales of my mother never having seen a banana until the war was over, or of the lack of materials, of turning hems on skirts to make them last longer and other privations. Compared to what was happening in Europe, however, the New Zealanders at home were lucky. Rationing didn’t come into force until 1942 (compared to 1940 in the UK) when the purchase of sugar and tea was first restricted, and pork eating became illegal in 1943 as pig farmers were ordered to send their product to feed American troops in the Pacific. How could pork-eating possibly be illegal? Not in pig-loving New Zealand. All of these tales were by far the best thing about spending time with my mother’s family. The conversation always overflowed with anecdotes and interest.
Sometimes when we were visiting the family, we’d drive to Hastings for a change of shopping or to visit my mother’s great aunt who was stone deaf, rode a bicycle everywhere in spite of her age, and entertained us kids by giving us a big bowl of walnuts from her ancient tree in the garden with a nutcracker. Those were pre-Nintendo days, so activities like cracking nuts gave us a tremendous amount of satisfaction, especially as we didn’t crack nuts at home. If Mum wanted walnuts for her baking, she’d buy a pack of the ready-chopped variety from the supermarket. Here, they fell off a tree. How cool was that?
Another treat on the trip to Hastings was the possibility of a stop at Rush Munro’s Ice Cream Gardens in Heretaunga Street. This mecca for the ice cream lover is still in existence, having been established in 1926 by Frederick Charles Rush Munro, New Zealand’s very first ice cream manufacturer.
I remember Rush Munro’s as an ice cream parlour with a difference. The ice cream would be whittled with a spoon into a conical shape on top of a squat orange cone and always tasted a bit special. The cherry on top (not literally) in this case was the gardens where there was a fish pond filled with koi carp. I could watch the giant carp for ages as they glided around their pond in a swish of gold and white. Meanwhile, at the counter filled with drums of creamy wickedness, Mum always had trouble choosing between rum ‘n’ raisin or that staunch bastion of New Zealand ice cream creations, hokey pokey. All the usual flavours were there to choose from: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, boysenberry and banana. Checking out the current list, I am interested to see the following concoctions: feijoa, malted milk, maple walnut and passionfruit, with the promise of more flavours in development.
Yes, there is such a thing as a boysenberry and for some reason, just as we have a fondness for hokey pokey ice cream in New Zealand, so do we appreciate this strange berry that sounds as if it belongs on the pages of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I know what they look like and I know what they taste like (a bit like a raspberry with greater depth and richness; a bit tart) but I also know that in the UK I have never, ever heard mention of boysenberries, be they in ice cream, in tins on supermarket shelves, in recipes or on cooking shows. So, in my ignorance, I turned to Wikipedia to help me out and find out that they are:
“suspected to be a cross between a loganberry and the western dewberry,”
and that they were: “discovered on Rudolph Boysen’s farm in northern California. Walter Knott was the first to commercially cultivate it in southern California. His family’s small restaurant and pie business eventually grew into the theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm.”
I’ve been to Knott’s Berry Farm so I’ve therefore unwittingly visited the home of the boysenberry but on that particular excursion I was barely eight years old and far more interested in panning for gold or taking rollercoasters than discovering the ancestral home of a fruit.
Still not quite over the rollercoaster stage but definitely more interested in food origins, I googled a few UK supermarkets. No boysenberry anything available, so it would seem. But if you google ‘boysenberry uk’ there are some places you might be able to pick up some jam if you crave a taste of it. Apparently a certain J.O. Sims, fruit specialist, introduced the fruit to the UK from New Zealand in 2001. Now it can be found here and there in ice cream or yoghurt or jam, but it certainly hasn’t gone mainstream. For now, boysenberries in the UK are a specialty purchase for those in the know.
As a family we spent many of our school holidays visiting relatives in the coastal town of Napier. It was about six hours’ drive from Auckland, a long way to go with two restless children in the back, so we’d break our journey in different places along the way. Paeroa was a sleepy little North Island town famed for its spa water, a key component of a soft drink called L&P or Lemon and Paeroa. The drink logo was emblazoned on a railway bridge across the main road, and if we were hungry we might pop into the fifties’ style milk bar for a milkshake and toasted sandwich. These milk bars were everywhere when I was growing up. They had formica countertops, an ice cream freezer filled with Tip Top flavours such as Neapolitan, hokey pokey or orange choc chip, and an old-fashioned pick-n-mix selection of sweets like pineapple lumps or jaffas served up in little white paper bags.
Sometimes, we’d break our trip in Rotorua; other times we’d go through Taupo, a wonderful place to stop for fish ‘n’ chips. Never have I tasted better. Bought from any of a number of uninspiring takeaway shops along the lakefront, the fish and chips would emerge steaming from the deep fat frier, wrapped first in paper, then in a layer of the previous day’s New Zealand Herald, which could make for catch-up reading if you’d missed that particular edition. Then we’d hurry to find a picnic bench by the lake. There we’d eat the succulent fish as it fell away from its batter, looking across at the three peaks of Tongariro National Park: Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, sometimes snow-capped and other times hidden by mist. Mum and Dad would repeat for us the legends of the lake: that it was a volcano itself once, but so large that when it erupted in AD 186, the ancient Romans, all the way across the world, wrote about strange skies and falling ash. That was quite a story for our young heads to absorb as we sat watching the bottomless lake in front of us, its hot water beaches bubbling away with the local thermal activity. There was always a slightly unnerving aspect to Taupo’s size and beauty. Crime writers, take note: this would be a great place for a character to disappear.
As we left the nauseatingly windy Taupo road behind us, wine country began. Vineyards flank the thoroughfare in row upon row of grape-heavy vines on the approach to Napier. On we’d go, past the airport and flat farmland that used to lie beneath water until the devastating quake of 1931 which changed the face of this town forever. Soon we’d arrive at my grandmother’s house and head straight for the living room, off which her galley kitchen stood. We’d sit and talk to her as she cooked her old-fashioned meals. Most of the time it would be a classic meat and two veg, but I remember her tomato scallop with fond nostalgia. A metal pan would be lined with white bread, butter side down, then filled with a tomato and onion mixture before being closed with more slices of white bread, butter side up. In the oven, the bread turned crispy gold and the filling steamed as we ladled it onto our plates. There was never enough. I could have eaten the whole panful myself.
Napier being a seaside town, summertime picnics on the beach of baking black pebbles were great fun. Sometimes we’d have fish and chips up there on the Norfolk pine-lined Marine Parade, perhaps washed down with a bottle of Gilberd’s ‘pop’, lemonade or flavoured sodas that arrived in a mixed crate. On outings with my great aunt and great uncle I learned to love toasted cheese and onion sandwiches, still one of my top comfort cravings. Back at their flat we’d make ice cream sodas with a scoop of ice cream topped by lemonade and stirred with long orange swizzle sticks in the shape of a giraffe. Then I’d sit with my great uncle and play card games with him for 2 or 1 cent stakes. He must have let me win because I always left with pockets full of change.
The same great uncle kept a vegetable patch hidden from wind and prying eyes behind the garage. He taught me how to pull up carrots and that pop each time one was released from the earth was a huge thrill for a city child. Suddenly, carrots in plastic bags on supermarket shelves seemed incredibly boring. It’s strange how such simple memories glue themselves to people we know, becoming intertwined with their personalities in our heads. At my great uncle’s funeral, many years later, all I could think about was carrots.
As my grandmother and her sisters sat talking about the neighbourhood, the people, the houses and what colour to paint the fence this year or whose roses were growing well, occasional pieces of information raised my interest like someone offering to make a mock chicken. What on earth was that? How could it be possible to make anything that’s not chicken taste like chicken, I wondered. It tasted perfectly good and even a bit like chicken, which was peculiar to my small head as no chicken or meat made it into the mixture. Here is a recipe for mock chicken that I found on abc.net.au Apparently it was very popular in war times when meat and chicken were rationed so that’s how it found its way into our family’s cooking history.
Click here to go to Kiwi Cuisine 1
I can’t remember exactly when I became a foodie, just that I would rather be run over by a double decker bus with a memorable meal in my stomach, as opposed to a mere lettuce leaf or two. Growing up in New Zealand we were unknowingly lucky and healthy. None of that GM food nonsense or EU directives insisting that carrots should be a certain length with no bend in them. There was always fresh produce to be had from both land and sea and given that the sea can never be far from you in this island nation, the fish and seafood were a delight. As for the meat, cows and sheep roam all over the great New Zealand outdoors, munching on hillsides of grass of which there is plenty. Put simply, the animal sources of food for our tables were respected and this had a direct influence on the taste.
As a child, my mother had a strong influence on our consumption of food. Without going so far as to ban biscuits or treats, she would often bake them herself. Her afghan biscuits with chocolate icing were an after-school temptation and her date and apple cake remains a family favourite. Mum did, however, have a few house rules. She insisted we ate wholegrain bread, informing us regularly that “the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead!” and avoided artificial colourings and e-numbers as much as possible. This must have been tricky in the days of jungle juice and other drink mixes, years before ‘added vitamins’, when each glassful contained dubious chemical contents and enough flavourings to make a child snap, crackle and pop for hours at a time.
New Zealand in the seventies was very much a meat and two veg dinner culture, following the influence of England on her colonies. My parents told the tale of returning from many years living in the UK to find that in the Big Smoke called Auckland, there were only a couple of restaurants, neither of which was licensed to sell alcohol. They were BYOs, that is, bring your own bottle of wine, for which the restaurant would then charge corkage. By the mid-eighties, this had changed dramatically. A chain of restaurants called Tony’s became popular for its steak menu and a personal favourite, cordon bleu croquettes - deep fried balls of potato, ham and cheese, served in small steel plates with crunchy salad. Not exactly what you would choose on a cholesterol-busting diet, but worth every pang of culinary guilt.
A quick look on the internet shows that Tony’s is still around in three locations: Lorne Street, Lord Nelson and the original in Wellesley Street, although The Duke of Marlborough and Tony’s Trambarn seem to have disappeared. Thankfully, the menus still show some of the trademark recipes and influence, such as deep-fried camembert served with an apricot sauce, Caesar salad, fish ‘n’ chips and a selection of sirloin or scotch eye fillet steaks with various sauces. I’ve always been intrigued by the sound of the carpet bag steak, described as ‘choice cut steak stuffed with oysters’. As for the Tony’s T Bones, they always looked big enough to beat even the heartiest meat eater.
Next on Kiwi Cuisine: 2. The holiday munchies.
One of the best things about the weekend is Vegemite toast. I love Vegemite toast. Coming from south of the equator, as I do, it is natural to like Vegemite. It’s one of the most praiseworthy Aussie creations and pretty much everyone I know from Australia or New Zealand eats it in some way, shape or form. Some poor misled creatures from Downunder, however, prefer Marmite. Blurgh.
Whenever I think of Vegemite, I think of a Japanese girl who joined our class when we were 12 years old. Her father had taken a company transfer to New Zealand and the whole family had been reading up on their new country. On arrival at their new Auckland home, Japanese Pal went directly to the back garden, looking for the eighty sheep she thought would be there, based on the ratio of sheep to people that had been mentioned in one of their guides. There were no sheep. They lived on farms or grazed in parkland. They did not live crammed into the back yard of an Eastern Suburbs bungalow. Japanese Pal was disappointed.
Back in the house her parents were opening a welcome basket left by the relocation company. Inside was a massive jar of Vegemite. To quell Japanese Pal’s disappointment at not having 80 new pet lambs to play with, she grabbed the Vegemite and spread it thickly on a slice of bread. Then she bit into it and she never ate Vegemite again. Japanese Pal had thought this spread would taste like her favourite Japanese chocolate variety. She didn’t realise it was a concentrated yeast extract with an acquired taste that should never be eaten in quantity.
In the UK a popular Marmite ad campaign states that you either ‘Love it or hate it’. Too true. Personally I hate it. Most of my antipodean friends agree with me. After growing up with Vegemite, Marmite tastes greasy. It may be a yeast extract, just like Vegemite, but in my experience, if you’ve been raised with one, you’ll never like the other.
One day at work a debate started about which -Mite we liked. Wise Woman of Wandsworth swore by Marmite. Via e-mail, Former Flatmate pledged his allegiance to Marmite also (he has a small addiction to the stuff and even owns a sterling silver lid engraved with the Marmite logo which can be screwed on to a Marmite jar). I wasn’t going to be outdone. Summoning every Antipodean in our workforce, I canvassed their opinion on which -Mite did it for them. The answer was unanimous: Vegemite. Meanwhile, all of our British colleagues backed Marmite. Hmmm. Intriguing. I put this Mite-y phenomenon down to Nurture, not Nature.
On Facebook there is a Vegemite appreciation group (all this for a sandwich spread?). In the profile a poem appears:
We’re happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch, and tea.
Our mother says we’re growing
stronger every single week.
Because we love our Vegemite.
We all adore our Vegemite.
It puts a rose in every cheek!
This might be taking it a bit too far. In the comments section, one facebooker recommends dipping almonds in Vegemite whilst another quotes the song ‘Land Downunder’ by Men at Work:
Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich
I guess the influence of Vegemite is widespread. (No pun intended!)
Marmite also has a page on Facebook. It states:
Eat Marmite? You don’t just want to eat it, you want to bathe in it, wallow in it like a hippo in mud, slather yourself from head to toe and wrap yourself in bread and butter… And you know what? That’s fine. Just fine. Completely normal in fact…
Thanks anyway, but I’ll pass. Those suggestions aside, things could be worse and indeed at times they’re bordering on mental illness. Just check out the photo of the statue made of Marmite. I think that’s what we’d call OTT.
On What’s Cooking America, there is a brief history of Vegemite, with a highly entertaining comment contributed by a Vegemite connoisseur. Read this for a smile:
“Your explanation is mostly fine, but some of us like a fair coating of the stuff, not just a scrape. I’ll eat it out of the jar! But one of the most useful tips to give any cook, is how it can save an anemic gravy: When a gravy lacks colour or flavour, a quarter to a half teaspoon or so always saves the day. Young-uns often wonder why my gravy is always so good; and if they’re nice, I let them in on the secret that my Grandma told me. Funny to think my family has used a product since it was invented. Thanks for the history lesson, and try Vegemite in your gravy, you’ll love it!
You might like to know that when the company sold overseas, it was cause for national concern…everybody was outraged, and worried that “the Yanks would stuff-it-up”. People were ringing radio stations calling for the government to stop the sale. Private citizens were trying to raise funds to make a counter offer…you wouldn’t believe the furor it created.
Another favourite use of my Mum’s, when she felt run-down, was vegemite ‘soup’; just a teaspoon of vegemite in boiling water. I used to like thinly sliced raw cabbage, garlic and vegemite sandwiches. (Sounds terrible, but very healthy and yummy.) Every kid in Australia ate Vegemite on SAO biscuits; often with tomato, and, or cheese. This combo is particularly yummy grilled as an open sandwich with Kraft sliced cheese, (the way it bubbles up and browns-off…yum!)
I’m an easy going old bloke, and I have a young lodger who gets away with murder because I “don’t give a rats” about money or anything – you could hit me with a cricket bat and I’d blink at you, LOL – anyway, he used the last of the Vegemite the other month…God he was lucky I didn’t rip his head off, LOL. Now I keep an emergency jar hidden away for myself, just in case.
Growing-up, only ‘pommies and wankers’ ate marmite; I still haven’t tasted it (excuse the language.) We all agreed the best pies were “Sergeants pies”, though we’d eat “Four and Twenty” if that was all we could get. People argued about Ford and Holden; and we’re still arguing about which code of football is best…but apart from cricket, vegemite is one of the great unifying forces – no matter your politics or standing in life, we all love our Vegemite.
What ever you do, don’t muck with the recipe too much, or you can forget about being allies. LOL.
NB. It was a national tragedy the day that Sergeants stopped baking pies. People went around buying-up the last run, and freezing them. It was very sad I remember; we mourned their passing for years, quite literally. The new ones are ok, but not a patch on the original. (Aussies used to have them flown overseas when touring.) It’s the highest praise for a pie to say it’s almost as good as a Sergeants.”
Passions certainly run high when it comes to the Mite-y wars. I’ll always be on the side of Vegemite, and will have to keep my head low in this land of Marmite-lovers lest a low flying jar of the stuff knocks me unconscious. It’s certainly a bizarre situation, having such competition between sandwich spreads. I mean, who ever heard of such a war between Bonne Maman and another jam? Or between two brands of peanut butter? With appreciation groups on social networking sites and statues constructed of the stuff you’d usually put on toast? I don’t know. It can’t be normal.
I don’t really get homesick, as in getting overly emotional because I miss New Zealand, the place where I was born and raised. I suppose that’s because I’ve lived in England for so long now that I consider it home. However, there are a few things that make me realise that I am still a Kiwi lass.
For years when I first lived in London, the onset of winter had a strange effect on me. Each November, just as Spring was warming New Zealand on the other side of the world, I would have waking dreams of walking along a beach in the sunshine, surrounded by blooming Pohutukawa trees with Rangitoto Island a permanent fixture on the horizon. Those dreams were incredibly unsettling, especially as the alarm would then sound and my eyes invariably open to yet another dark, grey, wet day signalling the start of winter. Moreover, those dreams were mean. They teased and reminded me that although my body was in London, my subconscious was 11387 miles away. And then I’d realise that I was using England’s miles as opposed to New Zealand’s kilometres to measure distance. I really was starting to acclimatise to this very different place.
Just this morning, as I watched the shampoo suds go down the plughole in the shower, I thought to myself ‘that still looks wrong to me,’. Here water spirals down a sink in a clockwise direction and in the Southern Hemisphere it goes anti-clockwise. I’ve asked a friend in Auckland to verify this because I can’t remember and now there are some scientists disputing the fact that the Coriolis Force, as it’s known, applies to water. Apparently it relates more to the movement of weather forces in the different Hemispheres. The fact I even care is somewhat disturbing.
I still think that Crowded House is the best band ever to have walked the planet. Occasionally, if I’m home alone and thinking about New Zealand, I will crank up their song, ‘Tall Trees’, and sing my lungs out. I’d say this could be quite an ‘interesting’ (in the worst sense of the word) sight, which is why I never do it with an audience and I certainly don’t do it often. Over time, I’ve also deduced that mood at the beginning of my one-girl-band festival has an impact on outcome. For instance, the Maori singing at the end of ‘Kare Kare’ makes my soul yearn for All Things New Zealand and it is then that my eyes may sting a bit. If it’s been an ‘I Hate London’ day, I’ll probably need kleenex.
I still eat Vegemite. Can’t stand Marmite. Monsieur has yet to have a bite of Vegemite toast because he doesn’t like the smell. I won’t marry him until he tries it at least once. Mind you, in the interests of retribution he might then force me to eat Nutella and I must admit that the concept of chocolate spread on bread seems just a bit odd.
I still consider fish and chips eaten on the shores of Lake Taupo to be the best in the world. Anyone who disputes this simply hasn’t tried it. So fresh and tasty, wrapped modestly in the previous day’s New Zealand Herald, it turns me into Pavlov’s dog each time I think of it. In fact, one of my favourite photos shows my Late and Great Aunt M sitting on a park bench in Taupo. She’s eating her fish ‘n’ chips with the incredible backdrop of the lake and mountains and a huge, blue sky. Her gaze is somewhere, but it’s not with the photographer. I still wonder what she was thinking that day.
Then there are the food parcels from the concerned relatives of a New Zealand colleague. Apparently the rumours that food is terrible in England have reached the South Pacific so, just as in times of war, families send foodstuffs to their loved ones stationed abroad. We don’t complain. Thank you very much for the Pineapple Lumps.
Before moving to London I never considered how much I’d miss certain food items: Toffee Pops, Arnott’s Shapes, Tip Top’s Chocolate Ripple ice cream, the cheese, terakihi fish, Jelly Tip ice lollies (there you go: I used the term ‘ice lolly’ which is very un-Kiwi) and roast kumara, the New Zealand sweet potato. Sadly, anything frozen cannot be DHLed to London and because that saves my waistline from a few unwanted inches, we’ll call it a good thing. However, I have been known to surf NZ supermarket websites, just to remember how many wonderful foodie items there are over there. Shrewsbury biscuits, Watties creamed sweetcorn (perfect for sweetcorn fritters) and jars of passionfruit pulp. There I go again.
If you mention the All Blacks, watch out. I know exactly where my All Blacks shirt lives so I can pull it out on match days and my mother thinks Dan Carter is a god. I may have moved to London but that doesn’t mean I don’t know who wins the Bledisloe Cup each year.
There’s more, much more, to write about being an ex-pat Kiwi. But most importantly, I may have moved out of New Zealand, but New Zealand has never moved out of me.